Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slow cooker shrimp creole

Just typing out that title makes me laugh out loud.  Giggle, in fact.  Because I picture myself watching the bubbly Paula Deen, frying away in her kitchen, looking into the camera and saying it in her signature Southern drawl.  Also, because, as much as I love watching her, I think Matt enjoys her show even more.  Why?  For starters, because everything she makes look sinfully delicious and the way to that boy's heart is certainly through his stomach.  (Thank goodness, because if not, I'd be in trouble.)  But really because he loves her accent and laugh.  He mimics it like a child in the throes of the terrible 2s would.  "Hey y'all" has become one of his favorite phrases.  Hearing her laugh practically has him doubled over in stitches and that makes me smile just thinking about it.  If I'm ever lucky enough to meet her (Savannah is on my list of places to visit), the first words out of my mouth will inevitably be, "My boyfriend loves you!"  What 63-year-old woman wouldn't love to hear that?  Ha!

Monday, August 30, 2010

"C" is for cookie

And that's good enough for me :)  Not only was this a gorgeous end of summer weekend, but it was a delicious one, too.  There were runs and walks, but not nearly enough to make up for these monstrous cookies.  On Saturday, Matt and I headed to Oakmont Bakery to pick up some sweets.  I was first there a month ago with Laura, as she introduced me to one of the best bakeries in Pittsburgh and their famous butter stars (holy cow, you must try them!)  I tried about 12 items then, so on this return trip I had an idea of what my favorite items were: maple frosted cinnamon roll, almond macarons, a mini croissant, and butter stars.  Some might think that I don't like buying bakery sweets, but just the opposite -- I love buying treats, especially ones that claim to be one of that business's signature items.  I get to appreciate another baker's hard work on something that I probably don't make very often myself. Win win!

When I suggested to Matt that we go, his reaction was lukewarm since he's not nearly as enthusiastic about dessert as I am.  And then we walked through the door -- the smells of freshly baked breads and the sight of a miniature pineapple upside down cake quickly revived him.

While I picked out my haul, I fell in love with a a Cookie Monster cookie sandwich -- sweet fluffy icing between two chewy chocolate chip cookies.  What a perfect Saturday afternoon snack!

As if that cookie sandwich wasn't enough for the day, I finally christened my new cake pans.  I made this cake for the viewing of the Emmy awards at Julie's on Sunday night.  And wow, I'm so thankful for the comments feature on Willams & Sonoma products -- per everyone's suggestions, I greased up those pans with Pam for baking like there was no tomorrow.

I used the W&S recipe, which yields a super dense cookie-like cake that thankfully popped right out of the pans.  The only thing I would do different next time is whisk everything together by hand, rather than using my mixer -- it created a few too many air bubbles.

But hey, you won't hear me complaining about any air bubbles when it comes to the final masterpiece.  Paired with the basic buttercream, this cake is dangerous, people!  I'm talking must-go-back-for-seconds dangerous.  And just so whimsical-looking!  You could try ice cream in the middle, or perhaps a peppermint filling around the holidays.  Maybe a pumpkin cake with maple cinnamon frosting?  Whohhhh, slow down, self.  Take a moment to enjoy the "fruits" of your labor.

And that I did!  All while rating actresses' dresses and, as Julie so eloquently put it, reconsidering that second piece of cake and being more motivated than ever to go for a run :)  Who were your favorites of the night?  Interestingly enough, both of my best-dressed were from Glee and even sporting the same hue: Lea Michele and Jayma Mays.

And hey, I think as far as award shows go, last night's was pretty good.  Jimmy Fallon was funny, the jokes were on target and no one lingered too long up at the podium.  Cookies and shiny pretty dresses.  I can't think of a better Sunday night before the work grind of Monday morning :)  Have a good one!

Today is National Toasted Marshmallow Day!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Herbed squash and potato gratin

It's no surprise that I love dessert.  See exhibits A, B, and C.  (Also see the Oreo I had first thing this morning... hey, it's Friday!  I wanted to treat myself.)  But, for some reason, I seem to go a bit, as some would say, "overboard" during the summertime.  Like Wednesday that time I had three ice cream treats in an eight hour time frame.  (If you're wondering, they were a chocolate eclair crunch bar, a chocolate chip cookie sandwich, and a caramel brownie sundae.)  Some may argue that adults should know better, eat well-rounded meals, and practice control in the presence of sweets.  I say, yes, I am an adult and if I want to eat ice cream three times a day, then I will do just that because there is no one to keep me from doing so. 

Public assertions of maturity aside, I do realize that after a day consuming foods with little nutritional value and enough sugar to populate a beach, my body needs what I like to call a "reset button meal".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sour cherry pie

Maybe I've seen too many movies, but I firmly believe that every family has at least one great food story.  Be it a terrific disaster involving one very blackened Thanksgiving turkey or a quest to discover the key to a top secret cookie recipe from six generations ago.  This story has neither of those elements :)  But, at least to me and mine, it is a pretty fantastic history of the Kemp family and its love of a rare but delicious summer fruit -- the sour cherry.  If you'll permit me, a trip down memory lane...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fish tacos with mango salsa

As I said I would yesterday, I saw Eat, Pray, Love last night!  I loooooved the book and just liked the movie.  There are very few cases when the movie surpasses the book, so I wasn't the least bit bummed.  I'd still recommend it to all females (and any patient male counterparts).  The story is heart-warming, I love Julia Roberts, and the supporting cast was phenomenal: Javier Bardem?  Mm.  The roles of Richard from Texas and David?  Perfect casting.  And Sofie?  Uh-door-uh-bull.  But my favorite part of the movie was the scenery... oh the scenery, what I would've given to tour with the cast and crew during filming.  Italy, India, and Indonesia.  While seeing Italy just affirms that I must visit someday, the sights in Indonesia were breathtaking.  TropicalGorgeous.

Basically, I came home wanting to jet off on an exotic vacation, but I swear movies always have some sort of effect on me.  After Sex and the City 2, I wanted to go shopping... badly.  During Julie & Julia, I baked cookies, though they were a bit of a flop an epic fail.   And, after Inception, I had the most bizarre cracked-out dreams I've had in a long time.  Man, I must be a movie marketing team's dream come true.  Thankfully, this movie also featured delicious food, so I just settled for reliving a fresh island feast that I made the night before -- tropical fish tacos.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mom's banana muffins

[golden domes of banana bliss]

August 16th!  That officially means we've entered the back nine of August, folks.  Where did this summer go?  It's been fantastic so far: getting my garden in order (update picture coming this week, I promise!), a little trip to Germany, California, and even a far far away land filled with princesses and cupcakes.  And I suppose that entering the back nine of my 20s was notable, too. Pish posh, it's all been grand fun :)  (When did I become Mary Poppins?)  I still have a number of things on a list that I wanted to do this summer, so it looks like I'll be a busy little bee this next month.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Friday kind of list

Because it's Friday, and I just can't fathom constructing well-transitioned paragraphs, we'll all just have to settle for an enthusiastic list :)

1. Another good run this morning, and somehow my times are getting faster as my mileage increases.  I have no idea how this is possible, but I'm going to chalk today's road runner show up to the fact that I took a break yesterday.  Let it be known that rest can be good, though good luck trying to get this girl to slow down for too long.  Also can't hurt that getting to see a sunrise against this backdrop puts me in such a good mood:

2.I had my first experience with the web bargain phenomenon Groupon... and it was fantastic!  If you aren't familiar with Groupon, it's a website that features daily deals, be they for restaurants, salons, or goods for roughly half the price.  Example -- I bought a $35 Groupon for the Common Plea Restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh for $15... practically stealing!  Rock!  Groupon is available for many cities, and deals change each day, so start checking and welcome to this not-so-secret world of paying so much less for things.  Have you tried Groupon?  What deals have you scored?

3. Common Plea Restaurant downtown.  Didn't take any pictures, so no full review, but wow, super impressed.  Laura and I were saying that they spared no details, in serving, clearing, even seating.  Well done!  We each had a small plate, which consists of three appetizers of your choice in smaller portions one (rather large, actually) plate, for $15 each and another full size appetizer for $6.  I ordered the tomato basil bruschetta, pesto grilled vegetables, and crab cake.  Highlight of the meal was our full-sized appetizer the angel hair onion rings with a bleu cheese light dipping sauce.  Heavenly!  Thankfully we were seated in the back room so we could clean out the dish :)  Seriously, we cleaned it out completely.  No crumb in sight a la the Grinch.  A small dessert (pecan-crusted ice cream with chocolate sauce) and tip and we were looking at a total cost (including Groupon purchase) of $17 for a very swanky dinner.  Bonus -- I would've never ventured to Common Plea without the help of Groupon.

4. Heading home to my parents' house for the weekend to enjoy the suburbs and then a lovely bridal shower on Sunday.  Looking forward to this weekend and here's hoping yours is fantastic, too! :)

(sorry RSS readers!)

5. Dairy Queen now features mini Blizzards!!  MINI!  Or, should I say, mini. As seen in the bottom left of this picture.  Yep, this will definitely be happening tonight if I have anything to say about it :)

Today is National Filet Mignon Day!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pasta with creamy no cream sauce!

Before I address the intentionally contradictory title of today's post and subsequent recipe, I've gotta share a little project of mine going on at work.  It has no relation to this post whatsoever, but(t) let me explain... I, like a bazillion other Americans sit for 90% of my work day, and by the time 4:30 rolls around, my glutes are kiiiiiilling me.  I'm talking sore, feel the need to stretch them, ice them, and get a massage all at the same time.  I did a little research and found that sitting for extended periods of time does, in fact, keep your gluteal muscles stretched all day long, thus weakening them.  Add to that fact that, upon leaving work, I immediately head to the gym and stress my muscles to the max.  Shock to my body.

Solution?  A standing workstation.  Since most standing desks tend to be quite pricey, I fashioned myself one out of a monitor riser and two upside down hanging file holders, one each for my keyboard and mouse.  Sure, it's not the most glamorous thing, but it works perfectly fine.  After day #2, I am happy to report that I felt more alert throughout the work day and tush pain has subsided :)  Do you sit or stand at work?  I'm curious to hear if any of you have standing desks and what you think of them.

Now, to the real reason you're here -- creamy two cheese sauce with pasta:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Love is sweet

Happy hump day!  I'm feeling extra energetic today, and I think it's due to the fact that I cranked out 3 miles early before the heat began its descent upon my little city.  Somehow my pace improved from the 2 mile runs... go figure!  I'd like to think it had a little something to do with the repeating of a saying I saw over at Iowa Girl Eats: "Pain is temporary, accomplishment is forever!"  By 8 o'clock, my workout for the day was done (gotta love the Pitt gyms closing for three weeks to clean and do repairs).  And now I'm looking forward to a reunion dinner tonight with friends returning from the west coast.  Fuel & Fuddle here we come! :)

Speaking of things to look forward to, this engagement shoot is simply jaw-dropping (at least for me).  It was shot... in a bakery.  Are you kidding me?!  I'm speechless, save for a little voice in my head saying, "I want, I want!"  Shh, at least for now.

Be still my sugar-smitten heart.  Absolutely amazing.  And doesn't it look like they used some sort of lemon pound cake for these pictures.  If so, wise choice :)

I'm truly lost for words.  Thus, short post today.

Today is National Raspberry Tart Day!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guest post: DC Cupcakes

Today's post is by the one and only fabulous Georgetown-loving Julie.  Thanks, Julie!  Enjoy!

I love Georgetown.  It’s a great place to walk around for the day, have a lovely lunch, and do a little shopping.  (If you ever want to buy me a present, look no further than here, especially if your name begins with a B, cough cough.)  But when I saw a commercial for TLC’s new show, DC Cupcakes, I knew that upon my next visit to Georgetown I (1) had to get a cupcake or several and (2) write a guest post for this blog.  And so I did.  Off to Georgetown for the day with my mom (aka this blog’s #1 groupie), with a plan to do a little shopping and a little cupcaking.

Like any good cupcakers, we looked at the menu the night before, and had settled on splitting the red velvet and the coconut cupcake.  From what we could tell, Georgetown Cupcake is known for their red velvet, complete with signature swirl frosting, and well, we love coconut.  So off we went to stand in line in 90 plus degree heat.  We were lucky – from the time we got in line to the time we got back to our car in the nearby garage, it was only 40 minutes, although we were willing to wait much longer.  I know what you’re thinking – for a cupcake?!  When the cameras aren’t even on?!  Is that really worth the hype?!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Glazed mini lemon cakes

Happy Monday!  You know what I realized this weekend?  I'm getting older... not old, per se, but old enough that I felt a huge wave of happiness come over me when looking back at how productive I was.  Truly everything was checked off my to-do list, from cleaning the shower and running to a little at-home pedicure and time for a few almost terrible movies.  (If you're wondering, the Red Box selections were When in Rome and Have You Met the Morgans?  The former was even too cheesy for my taste, and I looooove cheesy.  The latter was barely saved by a few charming Huge Grant moments.  And yes, I'm giving these opinions keeping in mind that $1 was paid for each.  Yikes.)   Also a side that someone is getting old?  When said person is genuinely excited for new bathroom rugs.  True story.

One more tiny aside -- In case you were worried that I became a wet blanket, here's a little proof that I'm still years away from such a transition.   On Saturday, when faced with a family size bag of Doritos, I exhibited about as much willpower as a hyperactive child in the buttons and switches section of a Radio Shack store.  The bag was opened upon purchase, eaten on the mile walk home, and by the end of the night, 2/3 of it was gone.  Woops.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spread a little love today

Happy Friday, friends!  Extra, extra!  Permit me a moment to brag about one of western PA's finest -- a Pittsburgh gal who has made it her mission to spread kindness wherever she goes.  If you're not familiar with Secret Agent L, I suggest you do yourself a favor and check out her awesome website, featuring details of each goodwill mission with pictures and witty commentary.  You see, she anonymously leaves little messages and small gifts (i.e. a $5 gift card, a batch of cookies) in random places for folks to find and perhaps brighten a day or two along the way.  She has even made national headlines for her acts of cheer and generosity, and rightfully so!  We could all take a page from SAL's book and spread some love :)

Speaking of spreading love, how about spreading some cheese love?  Oh my gosh, for some reason today, I woke up craving, needing, must have right now-ing mini Babybel Cheeses!  Have you ever had/seen them?

Miniature gems of smooth cheesy goodness.  I'm sensing an impromptu trip to the grocery store tonight to pick up some of these... and maybe a movie to watch tonight.  Any recommendations?  I have A Single Man and The Blind Side on my list but I'm open to suggestions.  I'm thinking a recharging/productive Friday night is in order after this hectic week.

Have a fantastic weekend!  It looks like there is a lot of cleaning in my horoscope but there may be some play awaiting me as a reward... woohoo!
Today is National Root Beer Float Day!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Slow cooker creamy pork chops

America runs on Dunkin', and today, so does this girl!  Since Matt is headed to his parents' for two weeks before classes start, we decided to have a quick little breakfast out before he leaves later this morning.  A new location opened up in Oakland below Pitt's dorms, so it was perfectly placed for some relaxing eats before heading to work.  I opted for the protein-packed turkey sausage, cheddar, and egg white flatbread sandwich -- yum!  Not that I expected it to be bad, but I didn't expect it to be that good at a place known for its sweets.  The egg actually tasted like egg (shocking, no?), the turkey was spiced just right, and the cheese was melty gooey good.  Oh, and I may or may not have pleaded for a bite of Matt's vanilla cream doughnut to round out the experience... no pun intended :)

While breakfast should keep me full well until lunchtime, check out what I have packed for today -- rarely am I this excited about leftovers from the night before.

Yum, that was last night's dinner.  Freshly steamed broccoli (without a doubt my favorite vegetable) with gorgeous, tender, and oh-so-moist chicken pork chops! That's right, pork chops.  I bet you thought those were two chicken breasts, huh?  

Pork, the other white meat.  Delicious, moist, falls apart at the slightest touch from a fork tender, and packed with flava'... all from two ingredients!  While I love bacon, ham, or any kind of marinated tenderloin, I'm not the biggest fan of just plain ol' pork chops, so this makeover was more than worth it (you know, the total cost was somewhere around $4).  Oh and ready when I walked in the door from the gym.  Bonus!  Plus, it's so fun telling people that you're making "pork chicken" or "chicken pork" just to see their reactions.

Chicken Pork Chops
-serves 4

A few notes: You could try another kind of soup, perhaps cream of mushroom.  And you could, of course, use chicken in place of pork.  I just happen to prefer giving the pork a feeling of rebirth :)  This can be easily doubled, as that's what my parents usually do, and don't worry if you need to stack the chops, the outcome/taste won't be affected.

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
4 lean pork loin chops

In a slow cooker, spread a little of the soup, just enough to cover the bottom.  Arrange pork chops and cover with remaining soup.  Cover and set on low, allowing to cook 6-8 hours.  (If doubling, stir once or twice to move chops around.)  Serve and use "sauce" to drizzle over rice, mashed potatoes, or fresh vegetables.

Today is both National Waffle Day and National Oyster Day!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sweet & sour dessert sauce for fresh fruit

Imagine my excitement when I came home yesterday to find Matt in my kitchen, with dinner made and dessert waiting in the fridge.  A perfect surprise!  Mostly because when I get home from the gym I am famished and starting nibbling on almonds and chocolate chips because they are easily accessible.  Woops.  Anyway, dinner was a delicious chicken stir fry.

And dessert?  Oh goodness, ladies, watch out.  This is one for the books.  I literally could not stop eating this and, had it not been for a movie we were trying to catch (yes, Inception, and it's freaking amazing like everyone says!), would've finished the whole thing shortly.  And it's so so simple!  Matt said he saw Alton Brown make it on Food Network the other day.  A just barely tangy and incredibly sweet sauce for just about anything.  Dipping fruit (I opted for strawberries) or pretzels, drizzling on pound cake or graham crackers, yum.  It takes no time at all to throw together and can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to a week.

Sweet & Sour Dessert Sauce
(adapted from Alton Brown)

1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons honey

Place honey in a small bowl and microwave for 15 seconds, just enough to loosen up the honey a bit.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Serve over anything and enjoy!  And, you know, don't be surprised if girls become a bit territorial with this stuff -- it's out of this world good :)

Today is National Watermelon Day!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blueberry boy bait cake

Nothing quite says summer like a day with friends at a classic American amusement park.  We went to Kennywood on perfectly warm and cloudy Saturday and had ourselves quite a blast (albeit an unphotographed one... had to make my pockets light, theme park rules.  Surely you understand). 

The new rollercoaster, Sky Rocket, was our first order of business.  And pure business was what it was -- the business of thrill rides (oh yeah, went there)!  A super smooth coaster experience thanks to those new magnet-powered rides.  Since there was a Kennywood newbie among us, we were sure to give her the royal treatment for the rest of the day: Potato Patch fries, the Thunderbolt, the very back seat of the gloriously dangerous Jack Rabbit wooden rollercoaster, the outer seat on the Music Express, and fried Oreos.  Mmm. Be still my heart and, I suppose, eventually the blood that once flowed through my arteries, too.  Worth.It.

It's only fitting that after a day steeped in Americana, I wanted to make something that would evoke that same feeling in the comfort of my own kitchen.  It was finally time to scratch that two-week-plus baking itch!  Cue ecstatic jumping and clapping.  I refuse to let the summertime heat run my life.  Sure, "cooking" no-oven meals was delicious and easy, but baking is my real passion.  Conveniently, Matt decided to capture my valiant return to sugar and butter.  Oh, and those are definitely headphones, as I like to rock out with my KitchenAid :)

Flipping the calendar to the August page also meant that blueberry season was waning, and I had yet to feature them in a dessert.  "Get your head in the game, Kemp!"  It seemed meant to be, then, that I had this little number tucked away in the recipe black hole.  The story of Blueberry Boy Bait first took place in 1954, when a 15-year-old girl entered the junior division of the Pillsbury Bake-Off with this recipe.  She named it after the effect it had on boys -- one bite and they were hooked.  Astonishingly, she only earned second place, but reportedly stole the show with her light and fluffy blueberry cake.  And, rightfully so regarding the latter.  Finally, Cook's Country stepped in and made the final adjustments to the original version to make the recipe we know and love today.

The cake is so airy, and the pockets of moist blueberry pop so that the flavor is center stage in this dessert.  And the crunch from the cinnamon sugar on top is a nice little surprise.  When I wanted to verify the effect of this treat and asked my boy what he liked best about it, he replied, "The cake.  I like the cake.  And the crunch on top.  I love it."  Said between bites and with food in his mouth, of course.  I'll take that as a good sign. 

Note: If using frozen blueberries, do not thaw, as they will become mushy and make the batter a blue-green color.  Just use frozen.  Also, if you'd like to make a smaller cake, try halving the recipe and using an 8-by-8-inch square pan; cooking time will remain the same.  Finally, I didn't use parchment paper, but I'd highly urge you to use it and would do so myself next time.  It would make things a heckuva lot easier during the turning out and flipping processes.

Blueberry Boy Bait
(adapted from Cook's Country)

2 cups + 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk (or buttermilk)
1/2 cup blueberries

For topping:
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

With rack in the middle of the oven, preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.  Line bottom with parchment paper and grease paper as well; set aside.  In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  Cream butter and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium high for about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until just incorporated after each addition.

With mixer on low speed, add one third of the flour mixture and beat until no white streaks remain.  Add half of the milk, beat until mixed.  Repeat with another third of the flour, remaining half of the milk, and final third of the flour.

In a small bowl, toss 1/2 cup of the blueberries with 1 teaspoon of flour until coated.  With a rubber spatula, gently fold floured berries into batter.  Pour batter into greased pan.  Scatter remaining 1/2 cup of blueberries over the top of the batter in pan and top entire cake with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake in oven, 45 to 50 minutes, until golden on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.  Carefully, turn out cake onto a clean surface (I used a cookie sheet), remove parchment paper, place onto serving dish top side up.  Cut and serve warm or at room temperature.  (Cake can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.)  Enjoy and have a rolling pin ready to beat away any unwelcome boys (and girls) when necessary :)

For the month of August, I'm going to share with you that day's national food holiday because, hey, why not?  Today is National Ice Cream Sandwich day!